By Joe Rutherford
Mississippi’s impressive drop from 7th to 20th in the percentage of people killed in alcohol-impaired driving accidents from 2009 to 2010 probably can be attributed to multiple factors, but the extent of decline is encouraging whatever the reason.
In 2010, 10,228 people were killed nationwide in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported this week, 31 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States.
In Mississippi, alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped from 364 in 2009 to 231 in 2010. That places Mississippi 20th in the nation, but the state rate, ranging from 35 to 40 percent based on levels of blood alcohol content (BAC), is still higher than the national average of 31 percent. The Mississippi rate had been 52 percent in 2009.
The Department of Transportation, joined by law enforcement across Mississippi, also this week began a “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.
In 2010, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had by law created a threshold making it illegal per se to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Of the 10,228 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2010, 6,627 (65 percent) were drivers with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 2,872 (28 percent) motor vehicle occupants and 729 (7 percent) non-occupants.
The nationwide crackdown begins with background showing that 70 percent of deaths in drunken-driving crashes in 2010 involved drivers with blood alcohol levels that were nearly twice the 0.08 legal limit.
The age group most prone to DUI fatal infractions is 21-24.
An average of one alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurred every 51 minutes in 2010, NHTSA reported.
The percentages of drivers involved in fatal crashes with a BAC level of 0.08 or higher in 2010 were 28 percent for motorcycle riders, 23 percent for passenger cars, and 22 percent for light trucks. The percentage of drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 or higher in fatal crashes was the lowest for large trucks – 2 percent, NHTSA reports.
Mississippi officials said our state had been ranked among the worst 10 states since records started being kept.
“This is a celebration of dropping out of the top 10,” said Gov. Phil Bryant, a former deputy sheriff.
Mississippi Highway Patrol Director Col. Donnell Berry said the state will again participate in an annual federal program to reduce drunken driving. It will run today through Sept. 3.
Drunken driving is avoidable, stupid and reckless.